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Actress Nafessa Williams Had To Learn The Power Of Pressing Pause To Win At Life

"Having financial stability is nice but by no means does it mean you are successful."

Finding Balance

In xoNecole's Finding Balance, we profile boss women making boss moves in the world and in their respective industries. We talk to them about their business, their life, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.

The only Black female superheroes that I can name off of the top of my head are my mother and "Thunder" from CW's Black Lightning. If you're not familiar with Black Lightning, I don't know what you are doing with your free time because it is one of the single best shows I've started watching. Nafessa Williams, alongside Cress Williams and China Anne McClain, effortlessly portrays a 21st century Black woman as she ebbs and flows through relationships, mental health and family drama - all while being a superhuman. Adding to that, she has broken ground playing the first African-American lesbian superhero on television. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Nafessa.

The 30-year-old actress has starred in the recent Deon Taylor feature Black & Blue alongside Naomie Harris, Frank Grillo and Tyrese Gibson for Screen Gems, had a season-long arc on the CBS series Code Black, and recurred on the hit Showtime series Twin Peaks.

For this installment of "Finding Balance", xoNecole had the chance to discuss with actress Nafessa Williams about meditation, traveling with her friends, and exercising as part of her daily lifestyle.

At what point in your life did you understand the importance of pressing pause and finding balance in both your personal and professional life? 

I remember it was right before I booked Black Lightning, I was auditioning every day, sometimes two to three times a day and I was drained mentally and physically. I was all about my work and busy trying to make it. I wasn't really enjoying life though, and I hadn't gone on a trip in about seven years, didn't have a self-care regimen, and was all work. A friend of mine advised me to press the pause button and live a little so I could give over to my craft and, more importantly, so I wouldn't drive myself crazy. So, it was at that moment I started to live more and take care of myself.

"I remember it was right before I booked Black Lightning, I was auditioning every day, sometimes two to three times a day and I was drained mentally and physically. I was all about my work and busy trying to make it. I wasn't really enjoying life though, and I hadn't gone on a trip in about seven years, didn't have a self-care regimen, and was all work. A friend of mine advised me to press the pause button and live a little so I could give over to my craft and, more importantly, so I wouldn't drive myself crazy."

Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

What is a typical day in your life? If no day is quite the same, give me a rundown of a typical work week and what that might consist of. 

A typical day in my life consists of prayer, meditation, [and a] morning workout. If I'm filming, I head to set; if not, I'm knocking out a to-do list. My favorite things to eat for breakfast are Beyond sausage and avocado toast, oatmeal and fruit, but if I'm pressed for time I'll have a banana and a green juice. I typically meditate for about 20 minutes everyday. I love the guided meditations with Deepak Chopra and Oprah on the Chopra Center Meditation website.

How do you wind down at night? 

I love to wind down at night with a shower, candles, and some relaxing music. My favorites to listen to are Lauryn Hill, Sade, Jill Scott, and H.E.R.. I lowkey go to bed watching Martin every night as if I don't already know every episode word for word.

When you have a busy week, what’s the most hectic part of it?

A busy week for me is when I'm filming every day that week. It's kinda tough being on set all day and night and needing to run errands because by the time I'm off work everything is closed; that can be hectic for me. But, I try to organize my weekend to handle the things I couldn't during the week. Oh, and trying to maintain my workouts when I'm filming can be tough when I have early call times.

Do you practice any types of self-care? What does that look like for you? 

Yes, mediation, workouts and therapy are a part of my self-care routine. I also treat myself to massages pretty often and quality time with myself.

"Mediation, workouts and therapy are a part of my self-care routine. I also treat myself to massages pretty often and quality time with myself."

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

What advice do you have for busy women who feel like they don’t have time for self-care? 

I would tell women, "You are what matters the most and if you aren't balanced, happy, centered, you can't give your best self to anything or anyone else." Self-love and our happiness should be at the top of the list. Make self-care a priority!

How do you find balance with:

Friends?

I talk to my close friends just about every day. When I'm filming the show, I don't really get to kick it until the weekends though. I love to travel with my friends. I'm a true Sagittarius who loves adventure. My favorite [memory] with my friends is my 30th bday trip to the Bahamas with seven of my girlfriends. We partied, jumped off boats, swam in a cage and watched sharks being fed. Literally my most memorable trip so far.

Love/Relationships? Dating?

Work has been the priority for me over the last six years, but I am learning to find the balance when it comes to dating. I do want to have a family soon, so I'm starting to mentally prepare myself for the sacrifices that I'll need to make.

Exercise?

Exercising is a part of my lifestyle. I try to workout at least five days a week. The workout schedule varies depending on my shooting schedule. So I work out with my trainer Justin Shaw who created a dope 15-minute ab workout. It's intense as hell but knowing it's only 15 minutes is the incentive. I also switch it up and do some of my workouts on my own which typically last for about an hour. I like to do full body workouts. Legs, arms, back and abs.

"Exercising is a part of my lifestyle. I try to workout at least five days a week."

What about health? Do you cook or find yourself eating out?

I've been a pescatarian for the last eight years and it works for me. I've actually been in the kitchen lately, trying new recipes, cooking for my friends, enjoying my own food at home. Every now and then, I order out but not as much as I used to.

Do you ever detox?

I've detoxed before but it's not something that I do regularly. I've done a juice cleansing detox where I juiced for a couple of days. I loved the idea of the cleanse but I lost weight which is why I don't do it often. I love my weight and at the moment I'm just interested in toning.

When you are going through a bout of uncertainty, or feeling stuck, how do you handle it?

My spirituality is very important to me. Prayer and meditation help me get through moments of uncertainty. Journaling helps as well.

"My spirituality is very important to me. Prayer and meditation help me get through moments of uncertainty."

Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Girlboss Rally NYC 2018

What do you do when you have a creative block on a project or feel like you have to clear your head before going into character?

When I feel blocked creatively or need to clear my head, I do a couple breathing exercises or go on a run. This tends to help me get centered.

Honestly, what does success and happiness mean to you? 

Being aware of and walking in your purpose is what I call success. I've learned tangible things don't equate to success, the intangible is what I'm after. For me, happiness and success is being fulfilled Spiritually, Physically, Psychologically and Mentally. Everything else will fall in alignment. I'll be honest, having financial stability is nice but by no means does it mean you are successful.

For more of Nafessa, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image via Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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